Vanessa woke early and lay in bed for several minutes, allowing herself to bask in the glory of the night before while her husband Pete slept soundly beside her.
She reached for her mobile and turned it on. Almost instantly, it began to buzz. WhatsApps, tweets, thumbs-ups, messages from the Messenger, chirping like the joyous birds outside her bedroom window.
What a party it had been! What a late-night, loved-up triumph of a party! She hadn’t felt this happy since her house had been photographed for World of Interiors.
She lay still for a few more moments – her yoga teacher stressed the importance of being mindful and not tied to a device for at least the first five minutes of the day – then reached for her phone again. The messages were nothing short of euphoric.
As she tapped her replies, Vanessa tried to ignore the churning nausea in the pit of her stomach. Passing it off as the by-product of too much champagne, she took a deep breath and carried on regardless. But however hard she tried to stay present, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. That her memories of the evening didn’t have the right… the right… well, didn’t have quite the right filter on them.
Her phone buzzed again. It was her best friend Leila.
“OMG, have you seen Sarah’s Insta Story? You look H.O.T.”
Vanessa felt a surge of irritation and tapped back her reply.
“‘Er, I’ve left Insta. Remember?!”
It had been six months and four days exactly (not that she was counting). The day she’d quit Instagram had been, in many ways, the hardest of her life.
But she’d done it. One morning, in a fit of self-loathing, she had deleted the app. There had always been a voyeuristic reason not to, of course. She needed to see how Sarah’s holiday in the Maldives had gone, what Jennifer’s twins looked like in their new school uniforms. And then there was Trudy, whose life she had – if she was completely honest – become irrationally obsessed with. She had realised this on the occasion that, in the dead of night, she had found herself taking a still of Trudy’s latest post, shot backstage with Chris Martin at Coldplay’s Buenos Aires show, so as to better zoom in and see what sort of bra she was wearing underneath her flimsy white T-shirt.
Once she had deleted the app, she had felt a surge of release – like a prisoner blinking in the light of freedom. But then the cold turkey had hit. Aimless bus trips with nothing to do but read books, no incentive to do anything fun/glamorous/interesting if none of the people she loved were going to be impressed or envious.
Over time, however, her life began to change for the better. When she actually physically saw her friends, which was much more often than she had before, they had much more to talk about, on account of the fact that she no longer went on every holiday they ever had, ate every meal they ever ordered and stared at their toes from the other end of a bubble bath.
Plus, she became a much better wife and parent. When she and her family had a lovely day out, they now actually had a lovely day out, rather than her styling a happy family catalogue at every photo opportunity. In every area of her life, Vanessa had begun to feel more fulfilled. She and Pete actually spoke to each other over supper, her focus at work improved, she got a pay rise and even freed up the time – and money – to plan a party.
And what a party it had been! And how lucky she was. Lucky that there it was, preserved in her memory, for her and only her and absolutely nobody else (not even the people she didn’t really like and hadn’t actually invited and who she really wanted to see how great it had been) to enjoy.
She looked over at Pete’s bedside table. There it was, his phone, winking at her.
No. NO!! She mustn’t.
But he was fast asleep. He need never know. She got out of bed and crept round to his side.
As stealthily as a ninja, she picked up the phone and tapped on the Instagram icon. There was no harm in one little look, was there? And besides, it would be as if the party hadn’t actually happened if she couldn’t, just for a moment, experience everyone else’s experience of it…
At that moment, Pete’s eyes opened, and he sat up, panicked.
“Vanessa! What are you doing?”
But it was too late. She was in. Scrolling down and down and down, back into the deliciously dark vortex…